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Every Tenn. lawmaker was sent a survey on adding rape and incest exceptions to the state's abortion law. Only Democrats responded.

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WPLN
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Rachel Iacovone
Demonstrators marched from the Tennessee State Capitol to the Metro Courthouse on Friday, June 24, 2022, to protest the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended federal abortion rights.

A new abortion ban took effect this week in Tennessee. Unlike some other state bans, it doesn’t include any exceptions for rape and incest. WPLN News wanted to find out if lawmakers were open to changes, so they asked. But only Democrats were willing to respond.

Currently, the only way you can get an abortion in Tennessee is if a doctor deems it necessary to save the life or prevent serious injury of the pregnant patient.

That means someone who becomes pregnant due to rape or incest will have to carry it to term or seek an abortion out of state. But Democratic lawmakers like Sen. Heidi Campbell are hoping to change that.

“When the legislature goes back into session, we’re going to employ sort of an all-of-the-above strategy to begin restoring legal foundation for reproductive rights,” Campbell said. “We’re also running clear exceptions to save a woman’s life or well-being, exceptions for minors, exceptions for sex trafficking.”

Those sentiments align more with Tennesseans.

Vanderbilt University polled voters in the state on abortion this spring. Results show an overwhelming majority of Tennesseans want exceptions for rape and incest.

“About 80% of Tennesseans see some case for at least an exception for abortion,” says political science professor John Geer.

Geer says that holds true for Republican voters.

“Now, if you break it down by partisanship, one-third of Republicans want it illegal in all cases,” Geer said. “But even that means that you’ve got the majority of Republicans who want to see some exceptions.”

WPLN News emailed a survey to all Tennessee lawmakers on Aug. 12 and again on Aug. 19. Only Democrats responded to the survey, which asked about exceptions for rape, incest and minors 15 years of age or younger.

In follow-ups, some Republican lawmakers were hesitant to talk about changes, despite calls by some Democrats for a special session.

But Will Brewer, a lobbyist with the Tennessee Right to Life, says he’s not willing to budge.

“This law was written exactly how we wanted it written and we look to maintain that,” Brewer said.

His anti-abortion group was one of those responsible for the state’s strict law.

Brewer thinks the statute is clear. But, says it could be made clearer for doctors in cases when a patient’s life is in danger.

“To clarify it in law is one avenue. But I think there are other ways to clarify it that are not in law,” Brewer said. “For instance, the attorney general could issue an opinion on what falls into the purview of the statute and what doesn’t.”

The attorney general’s office can not say whether they are working on an opinion.

Blaise Gainey is a Multimedia Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.
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